'It's psychological torture': Saudi activist's family say she hasn't been heard from in 6 weeks
UBC graduate Loujain Alhathloul turned 31 on Friday in a Saudi jail
Women's rights activist Loujain Alhathloul, currently jailed in Saudi Arabia, hasn't been heard from in six weeks — the longest time she's been silent since she was arrested over two years ago, according to her brother.
Alhathloul, a graduate of the University of British Columbia, has been detained since May 2018, when she was arrested along with nine other women's rights activists. She turned 31 in prison on Friday.
"We don't know anything about her well-being and we don't know anything about where she is exactly," said her brother Walid Alhathloul, speaking on the phone from Toronto.
He said she was previously detained in Ha'er Prison, a maximum-security prison and the country's largest, but the family now isn't sure whether she's been moved to a different location.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, her family was able to visit her weekly. But those visits were replaced by weekly phone calls when Saudi Arabia tightened restrictions on prison visits to prevent the spread of the virus.
Alhathloul says the family now hasn't heard from her since June 9.
"I would say it's a way to torture us, the family. Loujain knows that we are doing fine, but we don't know if she's doing fine," he said.
"We're safe — she's not safe. It's psychological torture."
Detained since 2018
Alhathloul was first accused of attempting to destabilize the kingdom. Since then, those charges have been changed to communicating with foreign journalists and attempting to apply for a job at the United Nations.
Her trial was indefinitely postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We're expecting that we're not going to get any updates from the court, or from the judge," said her brother, who said that even two years on, the family maintains hope that she will be released.
"We're holding up. We're used to that and we know that the target is us. This was difficult at the beginning, but right now it's becoming part of our DNA."
Alhathloul was a vocal activist known for her vivacity and spirit even prior to her high-profile arrest.
In 2014, following her graduation from UBC, Alhathloul was arrested for live-streaming herself breaking Saudi Arabia's female driving ban by driving across the border from the United Arab Emirates.
The stunt, which captured the world's attention, earned her 70 days of detention. She followed that up by running in Saudi Arabia's first election open to women.
After 14 months of detention, she was offered to sign a deal that would have let her walk free if she posted a video statement denying that she'd been tortured. She tore up the document.
She had previously told her family that she'd been held in solitary confinement and suffered electrocution, flogging, and sexual assault.
Alhathloul's birthday triggered an outpouring of support on social media and protests outside of the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C.
Walid Alhathloul said he believes his sister, who in February was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by United States Congress members, has become a symbol for women's rights across the world.
"People saw that when she got involved, she didn't have to, because she had all her own privilege," he said.
"And despite that, she sacrificed her own privilege for the sake of greater women's rights in Saudi Arabia. She did that unconditionally."
It’s been 50 days since <a href="https://twitter.com/LoujainHathloul?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@LoujainHathloul</a>’s family has heard from her. She’s been in detention for 2+ years on vague charges related to her peaceful human rights & women's rights work. Today she spends her 31st birthday behind bars. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FreeLoujain?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FreeLoujain</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AF_%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B8%D9%8A%D9%85%D9%87_%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%8A%D9%86?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ميلاد_العظيمه_لجين</a> <a href="https://t.co/gIVgUB74oq">pic.twitter.com/gIVgUB74oq</a>—@thefreedomi